Last month I celebrated 10 years of facilitating yoga teacher training programs and over the past few weeks I’ve spent some time reflecting on the past decade and all the experiences I’ve had, all the learning I’ve done (and had to do!), and all of the wonderful people I’ve met and shared with along the way. It has been quite a decade for me, and quite a big decade for yoga as well. Yoga has grown exponentially in this time, and just a few of the big changes are:
The popularity of yoga. A decade ago yoga was just starting to move out of the sub-culture and into the mainstream. In the US (where I could be the best statistics) yoga has grown from 5% of the population reporting fee-based yoga attendance in 2006 to 9.5% in 2015. In a recent Yoga Alliance survey in the US, 15% of the population had done yoga in the last six months.
Here in Canberra, 10 years ago most teachers were holding classes in local halls and community venues. If I recall correctly, at that time there were only 2 dedicated yoga spaces in Canberra, and then one closed down. Today there are at least 20 dedicated yoga spaces in the ACT, plus yoga is available at most fitness centers, many home studios, parks, public spaces, and so many workplaces are providing yoga too. According to Yoga Australia, there are more than 2000 yoga studios and more than 9000 yoga teachers in Australia today.
While it is wonderful to see yoga becoming more acceptable, accessible, and (in some cases) affordable, it does make for a more competitive landscape. There is a rise in Australia and worldwide in franchised yoga studios, perhaps making it more challenging for smaller studios to make ends meet financially. As well, many yogis are finding that rather than attending regular classes, online yoga services meet their time and financial needs while still providing them with helpful instruction and inspiration in practice.
New Yoga Forms. With the growth of yoga we have also seen an amazing growth in modern yoga forms. When I began practicing yoga the options for yoga practice were limited to (wonderful) traditions like Sivananda, Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Tantra. Today there are so many new yoga styles that, while perhaps inspired by traditional yoga philosophy and practice, are often also informed by modern techniques and movement practices designed to meet the needs of the modern Western practitioner. Over the past decade there has been a rise in newer yoga forms like the many Hot Yoga styles, Power Yoga, and Vinyasa Flow as more fitness-oriented yoga forms. There has also been a rise in more meditative and restorative yoga styles that are focused on mindfulness and relaxation. There are also many new yoga-based movement classes and fusion classes which bring the mindfulness and techniques of yoga practice into movement forms like dance, Tai Chi, surfing/stand-up paddle boarding, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, Pilates, acrobatics, fitness training, as well as sport-specific practices like yoga for runners, golfers, cyclists, and…well name a sport. This branching out of yoga into specialized spaces has some concerned that the tradition of yoga is being lost amidst the creative use of yoga in so many different forms. For me, however, any sincere attempt to bring more mindful movement into our lives is to be celebrated.
Accessibility. Yoga has become far more accessible, too, particularly for special populations like pre-natal, post-natal, mums & bubs, kids yoga, seniors yoga, chair yoga, yoga for bigger bodies, trauma sensitive yoga, and even broga (yoga for men). Yoga practices are being designed and facilitated for people who have special needs, require some extra thought to sensitivity in language and approach, or who don’t have easy/comfortable access to the practice or the resources to take part. There are wonderful efforts being made to bring yoga to people living in under-served neighbourhoods and regional areas, people living without a stable home and/or in shelters, prisons, refuges, rehabilitation facilities, and FIFO (fly-in fly-out) work environments. Specialized yoga is being offered to assist people living with mental illnesses like depression and PTSD, for cancer recovery, for physical, motor, and learning disabilities of all kinds, for addiction recovery and to help people overcome trauma, abuse or neglect.
While all of these new yoga forms, and greater accessibility and specificity of yoga are wonderful to see, I still feel as though there are many populations that are not being served or not feeling welcomed into our classes. This is why I applaud the efforts of those making yoga more accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds, ethnic origin and cultural heritage, to people of different faiths/religions, different sizes and abilities, and sexual or gender orientation. Programs like Yoga and Body Image Coalition, Yoga Service Council, and Veterans Yoga Project, as well as many others, can help to inform and inspire us to make yoga more accessible, inclusive, and sensitive to the needs of all members of our community.
Note: The recent Yoga Alliance/Yoga Journal survey reported that the most common reason that people don’t try yoga is that ‘often people see yoga as exclusive – designed primarily for young women or for those who are already flexible, athletic, or spiritual.’ As yoga teachers we can do better to encourage participation from all walks of life, and through our media, marketing, and teaching making yoga more inclusive!
The technology of yoga. When I first started running teacher training I could take (lousy) photos on my mobile but that was pretty much the extent of mobile technology. Over the past decade having quick access to the internet, apps, and images on your phone, being able to walk around with every yoga book you own on your tablet or kindle, being able to stream or download classes and instruction from teachers around the world, and being able to record key information quickly within the classroom setting has changed the shape of yoga practice, study, and accessibility.
And while I appreciate all of these benefits, I also have a few areas of concern about technology.
- I have noticed that when students use their devices in class to record instructions, they haven’t taken in the information the same way that the students who just watched and listened have. I wonder if this has to do with present-moment-ness. As though, we assume that the device is being present enough for us, we don’t have to pay as much attention. For instance, in a Thai Yoga Massage training, if students video the instructions, their ability to practice the sequence afterwards is not the same as those who did not record the instruction. For me, this is going to require further exploration and reflection regarding the use of recording devices in trainings.
- There is a new world of dysfunction and pain that relates to our use of devices. Years ago this was ‘computer users’ syndrome, with the chin pushed forward, the back rounding and shoulders slumped inwards (slumpasana). Now, this issue is compounded by our devices being much smaller than a desktop computer and held, not at eye level, but in our laps. So, the forward head position is also tilted downward, the back rounds further, the shoulders are pulled even further inwards to hold our tiny devices in front of our bodies, and the long term effects of holding this position against the force of gravity could cause both short and long term pain and dysfunction for tech users.
So, although I appreciate all that technology brings to us – there does need to be time and space in our lives where we look up and out, stand tall, and focus on the world within us and the world around us rather than the world in our devices. Good thing we have yoga!
The registration of yoga. When I first started teacher training in Canada and Australia, I had to wait a long time for my registration as a yoga teacher and as a yoga school because professional registration was just getting started, and I think I might have even had to fax it in to Yoga Alliance (remember faxes?) along with…am I remembering correctly…20,000 other applications? Today, there are many more organizations that register or provide service both locally and worldwide as professional membership/peak bodies for yoga teachers. These organizations can be a source of education, support, mentor-ship, and can help to continue to inform both yoga teachers and yoga students about the fundamentals of yoga philosophy, history, and technique that form the foundation of safe, effective, and beneficial practice.
My experience was similar back in the day when I became a personal trainer. In the early days of personal training, if you liked the gym and felt like helping others, you were a personal trainer – regardless of your knowledge of the laws of movement or the understanding of the uniqueness of each person that you work with. Similarly, it is important to get a yoga education that teaches you about yoga beyond what you feel in your body/mind. Learning how to teach others, how others might respond, and how to hold a space for each unique being in your class is as important as having a dedicated practice and being able to demonstrate poses. This is where registration can be helpful, as taking a training program that is registered with a professional yoga organization helps to ensure that each yoga teacher has the essential knowledge and skills in philosophy, history, anatomy, lifestyle and ethics, and teaching methodology. Loving yoga is definitely a must in a yoga teacher, but just as important is having a foundation of education and training to share that love with all the unique individuals in your community.
The community of yoga. When I first started practicing yoga, there were just a few people attending classes in my small community, and when we wanted to talk about yoga, we had to set a date, get together and share some time and space. I remember those occasions fondly, sitting together with a cup of tea and sharing our personal journeys, asking questions, celebrating our union, and being able to connect around the ‘campfire’ of yoga. But, it was sometimes hard to find those other like-minded souls, and hard to find time to get together, and life has only gotten busier in the past decade.
These days, our community extends around the world. Through social media, YouTube, online yoga schools, and email, we can stay connected, inspired, and informed in a way that was not possible a decade ago. However, this has its drawbacks too. There is no technology (yet) that takes the place of those precious hours of togetherness, and of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual communion that we once experienced in the ‘good old days’. We have festivals and conferences, trainings and retreats which are great opportunities to connect, but they are few and far between, and often out of reach for many yogis financially and logistically.
So, we turn to our online yoga community for union and inspiration, and what do we find? There are so many ways to practice a Triangle that it blows your mind. You have been doing Downward Dog all wrong all these years, and so-and-so yoga teacher can show you the right way. Here’s how you practice Shoulderstand. No, don’t ever practice Shoulderstand! It’s a minefield out there and can lead to confusion and crises in confidence for practitioners and teachers alike. However, if we can remember from our other forays into internet advice and what a wide variety of opinions, approaches, information and disinformation is out there in every subject, perhaps we can learn to make the most of this wealth of information without losing a sense of our own direct experience.
Our yoga social media world can also be judgmental, exclusive, petty, and can hinder our confidence and self-esteem just like any other social media. Whenever you get together a collection of humans, especially when they aren’t actually face to face, things can get bitchy from time to time. It might seem confusing at first glance that those dedicated to the practice of yoga can get competitive, nit-picky, and yes even troll other yoga teachers, but we are human and fallible, and I might suggest that this kind of undercurrent of competition and yogier-than-thou-ness existed long before social media. Instagramming of yoga perhaps loses sight of the years of dedication, the sincere application of philosophy, and the ups and downs of physical achievement that it takes to cultivate a yoga practice. As well, while beautiful images of yoga poses on the beach might serve to inspire our practice, they might also serve to make yoga more of a commodity than a community.
I am hopeful that we can continue to aim to bring all that we learn on the mat into our conversations and community – both face to face and online. For me, when the online yoga world gets to be too much, I can always come back to my mat, or call up some yoga friends and meet, face to face, to share, support, connect, and converse about our shared love, yoga.
I hope you have enjoyed hearing some thoughts and perspectives on how yoga has grown, changed, and evolved over the past ten years. Perhaps this can inspire you to think about your own yoga journey and how perception and practice have evolved for you? Next month I’ll share some insights into my own journey – what I didn’t know I didn’t know, what I’ve learned, and what I’d like to learn next. Thanks for sharing this journey with me.